‘Frozen’ (2013) review: A radiant glow, bathed in ice

Above, a scene from "Frozen." (Photo credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Above, a scene from “Frozen.” (Photo credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

‘Frozen’ rekindles the spirit of Disney animation magic

You have to forgive me for being just a bit hesitant over seeing “Frozen.” I admit, I had no desire to see another aptly titled animated Disney picture reveling in the company’s frozen fairy tale ideals of princes, princesses and queens from a time long forgotten. Somehow, though, “Frozen” managed to thaw my preconceived misgivings with an amazingly bubbly energy synched with outstanding musical numbers and absolutely stunning 3-D animation.

I’m not kidding about that gorgeous animation. From the stunningly detailed crystalline snowflakes to the grandiose structures of set pieces, we’re enveloped in the reality of just how breathtaking frozen water can be.

Disney’s “Frozen,” directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, opens with two young princesses in the kingdom of Arendlle: Anna and older sister Elsa, beautifully voiced by KristenBell and Idina Menzel, respectively. Pulling some from Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved “The Snow Queen,” our princesses have different fates in life. Anna is a precious little ball of energy who grows into a wonderful woman. Elsa, however, has been gifted with a curse: whenever her emotions run wild, she’s capable of creating ice ranging from icicles to, when she becomes queen, dousing her kingdom’s radiant summer into a stark, freezing winter.

“Frozen” blasts off right from the get-go, introducing perfunctory plot points establishing time, place and why. It’s not particularly developed, but the point of the exercise is to show the overwhelming differences between the sisters. It also introduces the first of many excellent songs granting infectious energy to the film.

Anna, being the optimist she is, quickly falls head over heels for the generically handsome prince Hans. Elsa, finding herself unable to contain her potentially lethal gift, leaves the kingdom to a snow-covered mountaintop, hoping she’ll do her subjects no further harm. The premise of the rest of the story revolves around Anna’s journey to find her sister and save her home from an eternal winter.

As with an animated Disney movie, comic relief isn’t far behind. In “Frozen,” we meet several characters worthy of a few laughs including: Kristoff, who cuts and sells ice for a living (you can see the problem here); Kristoff’s reindeer, Sven, who’s mute but intelligent; and a dorky snowman, Olaf, who has a striking resemblance to Mr. Potato Head for his ability to detach and reassemble his body parts. A creation of Elsa, Olaf doesn’t seem to understand that heat is not going to be friendly to him. Dangerous, yes, but we do get another great song-and-dance in which Olaf dreams of a radiant summer.

For all its strengths, though, “Frozen” can hardly fall into the group of Disney classics produced in the ’90s. We have just a few too many battles with troll-like creatures. Elsa’s guardian, a giant snowman named Marshmallow, is something we could have done without. The dual connection Anna has with Olaf and Hans tends to blur the story’s focus. And in the end, we’re missing a true villain. (Just remember “Tangled” for a villain worth despising.)

Still, “Frozen” hits its mark when distilled to its emotional core. Surprises will be had, though Anna will not be one of them. She’s just as happy-go-lucky as she seems. Prince Hans, though, is a bit more complicated. It’s Elsa, though, whose complexity and plight will sing to (and with) you. From the perfectionist young girl she was to the conflicted young adult she becomes, with a power she fears, Elsa is a different kind of heroine. That’s OK. A different hero for a different time is just what we need.

Four ice-thawing stars out of five.

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